No evidence shingles ‘renamed’ as monkeypox is a Pfizer vaccine side effect

15 August 2022
What was claimed

Shingles has been renamed monkeypox. Herpes zoster, the virus which causes shingles, is included in Pfizer’s list of adverse events for the Covid-19 vaccine, indicating monkeypox is caused by the vaccine.

Our verdict

Shingles and monkeypox are caused by two different viruses. Herpes zoster does appear in Pfizer’s list of adverse events, but there is no evidence to suggest the vaccine is causing monkeypox.

A number of posts on Facebook claim that shingles (herpes zoster) has been “re-named” as monkeypox and that a “confidential released document” published by Pfizer “listed 11 different forms of Herpes Zoster as adverse diseases” people could get from the Covid-19 vaccine. 

We also have seen other versions of this claim on social media making very similar claims that “monkeypox is shingles”. This is not true 

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Monkeypox isn’t the same as shingles

As we’ve previously written, shingles and monkeypox—which both cause rashes—are caused by completely different viruses. 

Shingles is an infection caused by the reactivation of the herpes varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox. Only people who’ve already had chickenpox can get shingles. 

Though it can sometimes be confused with chickenpox, monkeypox is caused by the monkeypox virus.

We know that the vast majority of monkeypox cases in the UK have been identified as such by PCR tests, and are therefore not misdiagnosed shingles cases.

Of the 3,017 cases recorded in the UK up to 8 August, 2,914 have been confirmed with PCR tests, with the rest rated “highly probable” monkeypox infections.

Herpes zoster does appear in Pfizer’s list of adverse effects 

Both posts reference the fact that herpes zoster appears in Pfizer’s list of Covid-19 adverse effects, described in some of the posts as a “confidential released document”. 

This appears to refer to a document produced by Pfizer in 2021 about adverse event reports following vaccination with its Covid-19 vaccine. 

The document was released via a Freedom of Information request in the US and has proved to be a popular resource for those falsely claiming it shows a list of “side effects” from the vaccine, which we have written about before.

The document lists adverse events reported after vaccination but does not confirm whether or not these events were in fact caused by vaccination.

There is evidence that some people may have experienced a reactivation of herpes zoster following vaccination, with a possibly increased risk among those with an already weakened immune system, although the evidence on this is not clear. 

A spokesperson for the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) told Full Fact in May: “The MHRA has sought independent expert advice from the Commission on Human Medicines’ COVID-19 Vaccine Benefit-Risk Expert Working Group following a review of the currently available data describing herpes zoster (shingles) occurring after COVID-19 vaccination in adults and children in the UK.

“The Expert Working Group advised that reporting rates for herpes zoster following COVID-19 vaccination were not greater than with herpes zoster occurring naturally in the general population and that overall, the evidence did not indicate a causal relationship between COVID-19 vaccination and herpes zoster in adults or children.”

The MHRA has also confirmed to Full Fact that there is no evidence to date of a causal relationship between monkeypox and the Covid-19 vaccines.

But even if Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine was behind some cases of shingles, that still wouldn’t be evidence that recently identified monkeypox cases are actually wilfully misdiagnosed shingles.

Image courtesy of Eugene Chystiakov

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